Wednesday 23 April 2014

The War on Drugs is a War on Drug Addicts

"There is no war on drugs, you can't have a war on inanimate objects, what there is is a war on drug addicts. When there is a war on drug addicts, it's very difficult to save anybody."
Gabor Mate

"What is addiction, really? It is a sign, a signal, a symptom of distress. It is a language that tells us about a plight that must be understood."
Alice Miller  

I'm very much looking forward to Professor David Nutt's talk – 'The Truth About Drugs', on the Isle of Man next Monday. I wanted to put some stuff on this blog about the drugs war, but I'm going away tomorrow so will only have time to do this one post. I considered concentrating on the economics of the war, but that's really shooting fish in a barrel, we established that prohibition doesn't work (unless you're Al Capone) back in the 1920's.1 Another aspect of this that really fascinates me and makes a farce of the whole thing, is that the same governments that prohibit drugs are often also involved in dealing them. The CIA's role in bringing drugs into the United States has been documented beyond doubt for at least the past twenty years, with Congressman Ron Paul even suggesting that this might be the number one reason why they're criminalised - 'so governments can have a revenue source to do illegal things.' 2

The aspect of the war that most interests and disturbs me however, is that like all wars it has a terrible human cost. Attempting to stop people from using drugs by making them illegal means that those who do must face some form of penalty, usually being locked away in jail. This always struck me as morally wrong, throwing someone in a cage for the 'crime' of ingesting a plant, but just how wrong has been illustrated to me recently by the work of Dr. Gabor Mate. Whilst many people try drugs, not all become addicts, it would seem some people have a higher level of susceptibility than others. Dr. Mate's clinical experience and research lead him to believe that the difference here can largely be attributed to emotional disturbances resulting from trauma in a persons history, most likely in their childhood. He goes as far to say that not one of the most seriously addicted female heroin users he works with in the slum area of Vancouver, wasn't sexual abused in their childhood. The 'war on drugs' is then nothing other than a war on the most vulnerable and abused people in our society -   

“The treatment implication is that if we see addiction amongst other conditions not as a genetically inherited disease but as a problem of brain development, then the question we would be asking ourselves, knowing that the human brain can develop late on in life, if the conditions are right, then the question we would be asking ourselves is 'what conditions do people need for their brains to develop properly, at any age.' Now, the worst possible condition is when you stress an ostracise and criminalise and dehumanise people, under those conditions there's no growth whatsoever. So the war on drugs which is in fact a war on drug addicts which is in fact a war on the most abused section of our population from birth onwards, which is exactly the wrong thing to engage in if you're really intent on helping people and to help redeem them from their addictive habits.”
Gabor Mate

Dr. Mate points out that we can all (himself included) indulge in destructive addictive behaviour to varying degrees, be it shopping or alcohol or work etc. Not wanting to admit to this, society points the finger of blame specifically at those addicted to drugs as a form of scapegoating, projecting blame onto others rather than accepting and dealing with our own issues.

There is a longer TED video, where Dr. Mate talks about his work and his own struggles with addiction, resulting from being born a Jew in Hungary during the Nazi invasion, here -  

1 – This piece by Johann Hari really makes the point -

2 – Someones jut made this rather nice little film running through the history of CIA drug trafficing -
The interview where Ron Paul made these astonishing comments can be seen here -

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